Not all of Central Florida’s magic is at Disney. North of Orlando is a vast ecological preserve that offers an abundance of recreational opportunities with unique exposure to Florida’s great outdoors.
Two large manatee festivals celebrate Florida’s beloved manatee every January – one in Orange City and one in Crystal River. These two locations are probably the best places in the state to see manatees well and in great numbers. First up: Jan. 14 and 15 in Crystal River.
Lake Wales Ridge State Forest is for explorers – folks who like to find places that aren’t in the guidebooks. Here you can hike for miles in the woods, hear only nature and have a chance to spot wildlife, including bear, bald eagles and endangered scrub jays.
Some of the best hiking near Orlando can be found at the Little Big Econ State Forest, where bluffs along a scenic river add interest. The forest is 5,000 acres preserved in a suburban area in the middle of the triangle formed by Orlando, Cocoa and Daytona Beach.
Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge is a year-round refuge for birds and other living things, from the dazzling roseate spoonbills to the American bald eagle. During the fall migration, birding is especially good.
Florida Rambler’s guide to the Florida Strawberry Festival in Plant City. Entertainment line-up, places to stay, places to eat, places to camp and things to do nearby.
Honeymoon Island is an unusual combo: It’s accessible, with first-rate concessions, and yet it’s a big, natural beach where you can get away from people and see wildlife. And you have to love how it got its name.
Jetty Park, with a terrific beach, fishing jetty and a view of passing ships, has a campground and small cabins. It’s an appealing getaway, with a few catches.
Juniper just might be the most pristine spring-fed river in Florida. It’s also stunningly beautiful and easy to kayak. On a hot day, the 72-degree water and shaded run help keep you comfortable.
The Seminole Wekiva Trail is a 14-mile multi-purpose, paved “rail trail” in the Wekiva River Basin that is part of a network of existing and planned trails across Central Florida in the Orlando metro area.